SWINDON Town paid the price for a dismal first-half display against rampant League One leaders Wolves.
The visitors set a new club record of nine consecutive wins with this success at the County Ground as Mark Cooper’s men were ruthlessly dismantled in the first half.
It was a case of men against boys in that first 45 minutes as Town’s lack of pace at the heart of their defence was their undoing.
Had the Town side which turned up in the second period been on show from the start, then maybe it could have been a different story.
They were the side that had raised the fans expectations so high earlier in the campaign pushing forward with venom and giving the visitors something to worry about.
Darren Ward and Yaser Kasim both talked before this match about how the play-offs were still within Town’s grasp – but not now.
But Bakary Sako’s brace along with Nouha Dicko’s first-half strike did the damage way before Michael Smith pulled a goal back in the second period.
Former Town man Leon Clarke rubbed salt into the Town wounds with his late goal.
Town came into the match without full-back Nathan Thompson. His groin strain from Saturday’s 2-1 defeat is likely to keep him out for up to a month.
But Cooper called on Jay McEveley to play through the pain barrier despite his on-going knee problem.
With Troy Archibald-Henville is also missing due to a knee injury, Swindon made three changes to the side that started against the Dons.
Raphael Branco came into the defence, while Dany N’Guessan was preferred in attack to George Barker.
Having won eight games on the bounce, Wolves manager Kenny Jackett named the same side that beat Walsall 3-0 – meaning that there was no place in the starting XI for big money January signing Clarke.
The form book suggested that this was always going to be a comfortable win for the title-chasing visitors, especially as Town have only picked up 13 points in their previous 12 league outings.
As the two teams sounded each out for the opening five minutes, both playing the ball around nicely, in truth, Wolves were just warming up for to what was to come.
James Henry drilled a shot inches wide of Tyrell Belford’s post in the seventh minute, but that was just the warning.
Sako, a tall rangy striker, ghosted in at the back post two minutes later to head home Henry’s cross. The goal left questions as to just how was the visitors’ danger man was allowed so much room.
Town looked for an immediate response and Alex Pritchard forced Carl Ikeme into action with a strike from the edge of the area.
When Town pushed forward they did so with purpose, the only problem was, they were woefully exposed at the back.
The league-leaders made it 2-0 on 19 minutes, when Nouha Dicko turned skipper Ward inside out to slot the ball beyond Belford.
And with 10 minutes of the first half remaining, it was game over. Henry threaded the ball through the Town defence and Sako calmly ran through and gave Belford no chance as he made it 3-0.
Town looked more dangerous in the second period, with Pritchard and substitute Louis Thompson both driving efforts goal bound.
Pritchard’s strike went inches wide, while Thompson, on for the Yasir Kasim, pushed on with pace into the Wolves area with his shot going across the face of Carl Ikeme’s goal.
But the damage had already been done by the visitors, whatever Town could muster in the second period was scant consolation.
With Wolves seemingly content with their night’s work, Town attacked.
They were rewarded in the 74th minute when Michael Smith ran through to place his shot beyond a helpless Ikeme for his second goal in as many matches.
The hosts now had a foothold in this game and piled on the pressure and Wolves did not like it one bit – if only Town had done this from the start.
They nearly grabbed their second in the dying minutes of the game as McEveley’s hit the post, but this was not to be the comeback of all comebacks.
There was still worse to come for the hosts. Clarke, on for Dicko, showed just why Wolves paid £750,000 to Coventry City for the striker as he waltzed his way into the Town box and send a thunderous drive beyond Belford.
Cooper will have been pleased with how players responded in the second half, but just why did they wait until the second half?